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Commissioner calls for action on sea level rise

Environment Commissioner calls for action on sea level rise - Expert reaction

20 November 2015


New Zealand needs to do more to prepare for the consequences of rising sea levels, warns the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in a new report.

In the report titled Preparing New Zealand for rising seas: Certainty and Uncertainty, Commissioner Dr Jan Wright outlines the risks posed by rising sea levels, including flooding and erosion.

The report concludes by putting forward eight recommendations including: developing a National Policy Statement on addressing sea level rise; building consistency in the projections of sea level rise; mapping data and community engagement guidelines provided to local councils; and establishing a working group to assess and prepare for the economic and fiscal implications of sea level rise.

“We must plan for sea level rise, but there is time to do it carefully”, Dr Wright said in a media release. “There are a few cases where action is required soon, but in most cases it is more important to do it well than to rush.”

Detailed land elevation maps of areas vulnerable to sea level rise are available on the Commissioner's website here.

The Science Media Centre collected the following expert commentary from New Zealand researchers. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting.

Dr Stephen Flood, Postdoctoral Fellow, Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University Wellington, comments:

"The Commissioner’s recommendations are considered and based on a thorough analysis of relevant science and policy.

"As outlined in the scientific literature and this PCE report, the public should be concerned about climate change induced sea level rise and the associated impacts on coastal flooding, erosion, and groundwater."

"The Commissioner’s final recommendation to appoint a working group to prepare for the economic and fiscal implications of sea level rise is crucial. It is also critical that the funding be made available for local councils to generate the information necessary at a local scale to bolster planning and management decisions that consider the impacts of sea level rise.

"The report highlights that hasty decisions in relation to coastal adaptation actions are unwise. However, it is vital that this call for appropriate information gathering and community consultation is not construed as an excuse for inaction in the area of coastal management.

"Natural heritage in New Zealand’s coastal communities is a valuable asset. Although natural heritage is not explicitly considered in this report it is important that the impacts of sea level rise on natural coastal heritage be considered and accounted for in any planning or management decisions.

"The recommendations to engage in standardised processes for council engagement with coastal communities as well as ensuring scientific data is standardised and engaged with consistently and transparently is welcomed."

Prof Martin Manning, Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

"The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report on how sea level rise will affect New Zealand now sets out a framework for responses that clearly go beyond just saying that a problem is coming. One of the key aspects of this is that central government needs to provide a much clearer sense of direction and guidance to local government. Until that is done, local governments are just faced with continual dispute and litigation and so are inclined to defer dealing with the problem.

"In particular, the report makes a very clear statement that the Minister of Finance now needs to address the economic and fiscal risks that can be caused by sea level rise."


ends

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